Thursday, January 15, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 20 Talk Peace Make War

six Israelis were injured, two seriously, when a Grad rocket hit an Israeli car in the negev city of Beer Sheva.

The Israeli air force reportedly struck at Hamas buildings today, killing two senior Hams officials, including Hamas Interior Minister Sayid Siam, his brother and another man, all near the top of the Hamas military establishment. Overnight Israel attacked over 70 targets in Gaza.

Israel army units began a push into the heavily populated Gaza City neighborhood of Tel Al-Hawwa today. Reports are that thousands of Palestinians fled the approach of the army’s tanks, D-9 Caterpillars, armored personal carries, and ground troops. Late reports say that Israel started firing artillery tank and machine gun rounds into centerl Gaza and then surprised Hamas by pushing into the center of Gaza City. Analysts say this is a final push before a cease-fire.

The media battles also continue. During the incursion Israel reportedly began returning fire aimed at it from high-rise buildings. One housed the offices of the BBC, Fox, Reuters, and other foreign news agencies located in 13th and 14th floors . Hamas’ Al Aksa Radio also sits in the building, or did until two weeks ago. Either one shell or two hit the high-rise building. Reportedly two people were injured.

According to the Israeli Army Spokesman’s office, Hamas took control of the first floors of the building, and were firing at the IDF and not allowing Journalists to leave. But Hannah Froigel, an Israeli-Danish journalist told Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet that she was in touch with her Arab colleagues who deny they were prevented from leaving or that Hamas was in the building.

But Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet reporter Micki Gourdis then said that the same building was the site of Arab journalists reporting from the roof at the outset of the conflict that the basement of the building was filled with weapons and rockets. Gordis also reported that as he spoke he could see Hamas’ Al Aksa TV filming in the building.. The IDF said the issue is under investigation.

Gaza’s 500-bed Al Quids hospital was also hit, and reportedly burst into flames.
Israeli rounds also struck a UNRWA building. UN Sec. General Ban was visiting Israel at the time expressed his “outrage and strongly protested” the Israeli action. Defense Minister Ehud Barak apologized to Ban, saying the shelling of the UN building was a grave mistake. Barak called for a full investigation of the event.

By mid-day on Thursday Hamas had fired 21 rockets into Israel, from Sderot to Gedera, hitting homes but causing no causalities. On the diplomatic front Hamas reportedly was on the way to accept the Egyptian brokered cease-fire agreement, with some modifications. The Damascus-based Hamas leaders negotiated the settlement with Egyptian envoy Sulieman, but it was the Gaza-based representatives who read out Hamas’ response. This was reportedly in keeping with the Hamas leadership in Damascus supporting the impression that Hamas in Gaza was making the decisions.

One of the suggestions raised was to control the Philadelphi route and the smuggling tunnels is a NATO, UN or US force to patrol the area, much as UNIFIL does now in S. Lebanon. Analysts say Hamas rejects this suggestion for two reasons, one that Hamas prefers an Egyptian or even Turkish unit that they believe will be more flexible; the second reason is that Hamas prefers a Moslem force because an ‘infidel’ non-Moslem force is antithetical to Hamas’ basic belief that the entire Middle East must be free of non-believers, with Israel the most glaring example.

Israel’s chief negotiator Amos Gilad flew to Egypt today to convey Israel’s reply to the Egyptian proposals. Defense Minister Ehud Olmert told troops on Thursday that Israel would keep on fighting while trying to find a diplomatic solution.

Reportedly the agreement calls for a Palestinian Authority return to Gaza to supervise the border crossings. Hamas kicked the PA out of Gaza in 2007 after a bloody battle. The West had hoped for the PA’s return since Mohammad Abbas, the PA leader, is considered a moderate.

However others point out that PA supporters still in Gaza have volunteered to fight alongside Hamas. Others say that the Gaza population still strongly supports Hamas. Some pundits say that this support will wither once the Gazans come out of their apartments and homes where they have been taking shelter during the fighting, and see the extent of the destruction.

On the other side of the conflict a poll taken by Tel Aviv University found that the vast majority of Israelis were in favor of the operation “Cast Lead.”

Analysts say that Hamas will try to postpone any final cease-fire until Barak Obama is sworn in as US President in hopes of receiving more favorable terms. Obama reportedly said he would start dealing with the problem from ‘day one’ of his term in office. Others say that no final cease-fire agreement will be reached until the emergency Arab League summit on the Gaza conflict meets on Friday if it meets. So far Morocco has said it will not attend..

According to the Yideot Achranot newspaper, Palestinian surveyors estimate that damage to Gaza buildings, roads, pipes, power lines and other infrastructure runs to $1.4 billion. According to the article, the IDF has bombed over 2,500 Hamas-linked targets since the incursion twenty-days ago, including 250 smuggling tunnels as well as large amounts of weapon stockpiles and rocket launcher squads. So far 1070 Palestinians have been killed and over 5,000 injured. The IDF estimates 25 per cent of the Palestinians were civilians.

Foreign Ministers from France, Norway and the European Union are scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss Gaza’s reconstruction, and the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized control. West Bank-based Planning Minister Samir Abdullah said rebuilding Gaza would be impossible if Hamas keeps ruling the territory alone. "It is a precondition that reconciliation take place and Gaza come under a legal authority," he said. "Otherwise, we can't do anything there ... And the economic situation will become some kind of Somalia."

Israeli observers say that the “day after” scenario is what is going to hurt Israel. This is when the press is allowed to roam freely through Gaza. Some say the area looks as if an earthquake has hit it. The same journalists who appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court for permission to go into Gaza, won the case, but were still denied entry. This press corps is not expected to be friendly to Israel once allowed inside Gaza.

One Israeli commentator on Israeli TV told viewers that the IDF Spokesman’s office should already have been showing journalists the damaged homes and buildings and explain that this one held terrorists firing rockets, this one a storehouse for rockets fired at Israel, and that one the home of a leader of Hamas who planned terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens. The commentator thought Israel had lost the advantage by not taking this step. Almost all analysts agree that the scenes of destruction will be horrific, and shocking.

The major conclusion to be drawn from this operation is that unfortunately Israel is not in a position where a liberal, reasoned, urbane government can rule. Where a civilian can hold the reigns that does not have military experience.

Ehud Barak is fond of saying, “Israel is a nice group of people living in a bad neighborhood.” Hamas in the South, Hezbollah in the North, Iran and Syria pulling strings aimed at Israel’s destruction.

Given the realities on the ground, and comparing former Chief-Of Staff, former Prime Minister Barak to his predecessor Labor Party official and Histadrut Labor Union Leader Amir Peretz, who mismanaged the War in Lebanon II, it is clear professional soldiers are needed at the helm, or very close to it, not amateur soldiers and well-intentioned politicians..